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National Daily Republican Story Archive A22

Sunday May 3, 1998

Echo of Ancient Rome in America

By Frank Bruni

SUN CITY WEST, Ariz. - Capping a week of strongly worded, intensely partisan jabs at president Clinton, Speaker Newt Gingrich used a weekend appearance in this Republican stronghold to invoke comparisons between Clinton's actions in office and the forces that led the Roman republic toward ruin. The ancient Roman Republic, was founded under the rule of law but was corrupted by foreign money, by personal ambition, and politics.

Although Gingrich did not explicitly equate the two, he made a pointed transition from remarks about questionable campaign contributions and Clinton's instinct for self-protection to a recommendation of several novels by Colleen McCullough about ancient Rome.

Speaker Gingrich spoke at a meeting of more than 6,000 people who had gathered in this Phoenix suburb for what Republicans had labeled a national town meeting.

As a result of the degredations of the Republic of ancient Rome, Gingrich said, "The fabric of the Republic collapsed." He then circled back to Clinton and ways that Clinton seemed to be withholding information about campaign finances and his relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky, a former White House intern.

"It is unconscionable for a President of the United States to be anything less than the chief law-enforcement officer of the United States," Gingrich said to applause on Friday night. He added, "This is a very sad and a very sober time."

The comments were vintage Gingrich, drawing on his affinities for political vinegar and historical allusions. They not only echoed statements he had made earlier in the week, but seemed to serve notice that his attacks on what he clearly perceives to be Clinton's weaknesses were no fickle, passing phase.

Gingrich vowed that he and Senator Trent Lott, the majority leader, would look into a recent report that the Administration's policy on exporting space satellite technology to China may have helped China or other countries develop nuclear missiles. Administration officials have said there were strict controls to insure that sensitive information was not disseminated.

Gingrich noted that one of the companies that Clinton allowed to export information was run by the largest personal donor to the Democratic Party in 1997.

"We are committed in the next few weeks, not months, not years, but the next few weeks, at a national security level, to getting to the bottom of the scale of this problem, because this is a threat to the survival of the United States," Gingrich said.

As considerable as his pique toward Clinton seemed to be, Gingrich had plenty left for Democrats in general, and in his remarks here and a speech earlier Friday at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., Gingrich resurrected the specter of the tax-and-spend liberal, addicted to big government and aloof from the average American. It was a strategy that clearly anticipated the fall Congressional elections and the Republicans' interest in maintaining a majority in Congress.

But Gingrich may have been looking even beyond that. As he delineated his accomplishments and his goals in front of voters far from his home state of Georgia, it seemed possible that Gingrich was giving a long-rumored Presidential candidacy a test spin.

It was telling that Gingrich made almost as many barbed comments about Vice President Al Gore as President Clinton, and that he threw in a few choice words about Representative Richard A. Gephardt as well. Both Gore and Gephardt are potential Democratic presidential candidates.

Gingrich reiterated a number of proposals for shrinking the Federal Government, including the possible elimination of some agencies. The Department of Energy was first on his list, although he said that the Department of Commerce also deserved scrutiny.

In his appeal, expected to resonate with party conservatives, Gingrich was echoing Representative John R. Kasich of Ohio, the chairman of the House Budget Committee. On Tuesday, Kasich began selling a plan to eliminate the Departments of Energy and Commerce to find money for large tax cuts. A similar Republican plan died in the fierce budget battles of 1995 and 1996.

Gingrich advocated measures to preserve Social Security well into the future; more choice in health care, particularly for the elderly; a national goal that all first graders learn to read and write, and that they do so in English, and a renewed, all-out war against illegal drug use.

And Gingrich advocated major tax cuts and reforms. He stated that he would like to see the current tax code replaced with a flat tax or a national sales tax, though he said that such an effort would probably have to await a Republican President, and that no American should surrender more than 25 percent of his or her income to taxation.

He said he would like to eliminate the inheritance tax, which he called immoral, and praised Republicans' efforts to increase the per-child tax credit, so that parents, not the Government, could have the extra money to spend on their children. "The Clinton-Gore team believes you're too stupid to take care of your own children," he said.

Gingrich's appearance at Stanford happened to coincide with a visit by the President to the San Jose, Calif., area. Clinton, who is on a fund-raising trip, and his wife, Hillary, were due on campus this weekend to visit their daughter, Chelsea, who is finishing her freshman year at Stanford.

Gingrich spoke to about 110 professors, scholars and corporate leaders gathered for a luncheon at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank on the Stanford campus. His demeanor was professorial as he took them on an intellectual tour that caromed past Confucius, de Tocqueville, Marxism, Maoism, Newtonian physics and the French Revolution.

In Sun City, Gingrich was more the firebrand, and he said he was angered by the suggestion some politicians made this week that Secret Service officers should not be expected to testify in investigations into the President's conduct.

"I can't tell you, as a historian, how frightening I found the discussion," Gingrich said. "This is nation of law. We, the people of the United States, hire the Secret Service."

He then added, "The idea that anybody could have a loyalty that transcends their duty to the law is alien to very concept of America."

Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company


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